“If you bite it, write it.” I’m not sure who coined this piece of advice, but it’s a good one. If you want to get a handle on your eating habits, and help get your diet on the right track, then keeping a food journal is the way to go. Studies have shown that one of the secrets to success for losing weight – and keeping it off for an extended period of time – is to write down what you eat (and how you feel before and after). Tracking dietary habits in the form of a food journal serves multiple purposes: you become aware of how much you’re actually eating; you can identify your eating patterns, such as stress eating or late-night snacking; and you will be more accountable for your food choices if you have to have a visual reminder of every food that enters your stomach (let’s be real – you’ll probably think twice before downing an entire pint of ice cream if you know that Ben and Jerry will be staring up at you from the pages of your food journal every day).
The more detailed your food journal is, the better you will be able to recognize which eating habits are helping you, and which may be doing you harm. A good food journal will include the following information:
- What you eat (be as specific as possible – write down serving or portion sizes and calorie counts if you can)
- When you eat (list actual times – not just non-descript terms like morning, noon, or night)
- Where you are (at home, at work, in the car, etc.)
- Who you’re with (alone, with a friend, with coworkers, etc.)
- How you feel – before and after you eat (this can include both emotions, like bored, as well as physical feelings, such as hungry or stuffed)
By writing down this information, you’ll be able to pinpoint trends like which meals keep you feeling full and satisfied, and which ones leave you feeling hungry a few hours later; excessive or late-night snacking; overeating when in a group setting; emotional eating; and binge eating. The patterns that appear in your journal can be eye-opening, and this visualization of your eating habits may be the motivation you need to change your diet for the better. It’s easy to be unaware of where all those extra pounds are coming from if you aren’t holding yourself accountable for every handful of nuts or candy you’re sneaking throughout the day. The beauty of a food journal is that you will no longer have the excuse of not knowing; all the information you need to start eating healthier is right there in front of you – all you have to do is use it to your advantage to make small tweaks to your daily routine.
Keeping track of every detail listed above may seem too difficult or time-consuming – and that’s okay. Your food journal can be as detailed or complex as you want it to be, and the act of writing down the details of all your meals and snacks will get easier with time. If you want to start slowly, begin by writing down what you eat, and the rest of the details will soon follow. For those of you who want to simplify things by keeping an electronic journal using your smart phone, there are several quality apps that serve this purpose. Two to try are Lose It and My Fitness Pal. Remember, though, that your journal doesn’t have to be fancy – it can even consist of some bullet points on a few sheets of loose-leaf paper. The key is to keep some sort of record of your eating habits, no matter what form that record may take.